When I first felt the urge to blog about prayer and prayer life, I held off a bit. I think prayer is many things– important, impactful, practical, personal, holy, and humbling. I finally decided to start writing, not because I am an expert on prayer, or that I have mastered the practice, but because I feel passionate about growing in my prayer, to pray with more knowledge, focus, and impact. I’m sharing in the hope that you will be encouraged, challenged, and equipped to do the same. I want to explore the many aspects of prayer, and learn all that it can be. But one thing prayer should never be is a bludgeon.
I find it embarrassing to be in the company of certain fellow Christians when I hear them try to stop a discussion or argument with the phrase, “I’ll pray for you.” Occasionally, they say it in love and mean it as a sincere gesture, but most of the time it is as condescending and insincere as a Southern, “well, bless your little pea-pickin’ heart.” “I’ll pray for you”, in this context, suggests that you (and only you) have a problem. I don’t need to listen to, reconsider, or even try to understand your argument, because I have already determined that you have no valid point and I have no obligation to hear you out. But more than that, it suggests two horrible things about prayer that are untrue and misleading. First, it suggests that my only interest in you is to “fix” you. In other words, I can’t convince you to see things my way, so I will reluctantly spend some of my precious time praying that you see things my way. I won’t listen to you, try to understand you, or give you any of my respect, but I will do my best to bring your bad behavior and/or faulty beliefs to God’s attention (in contrast to my.own). Prayer should never be a threat, or a weapon to be used against another person. Secondly, it suggests that prayer is leverage; that I have God on some kind of leash. I pray when things aren’t going my way, and God “fixes” them–including people who don’t share my theology or doctrine or worship preference.
One of the dangers of writing and talking about prayer in a public forum is the risk of seeming to or actually to impose personal preferences, practices, and beliefs on others. I hope to suggest many prayer thoughts and practices that I find true, helpful, challenging, or even dangerous, but I don’t want to insist that there is only one way to think about prayer or to practice it. Prayer is our way of communicating with our creator. He didn’t make us all the same; we don’t all like the same things, we don’t all interact the same way; we don’t have the same talents, passions, or responses to the world around us. The one constant in prayer is God. What I believe about God will determine how I pray, why I pray, maybe even when or how often I pray. But it won’t determine God’s character or his actions toward another person. I cannot make God make you do anything. I cannot use God as some kind of enforcer or hypnotist or brain-washer– nor should I wish to.
I do pray for people who dislike or despise me, who dishonor or deny God. I pray for their health, their safety, and their redemption. I pray for family and close friends and complete strangers. But I should do so knowing that God cherishes each person–gave his life for each one. God is not a bully, even though he has been characterized as such by some. God wants us to pray for everyone–not with pride or bitterness or an agenda, but with his compassion, grace, and love.